Tag Archives: Casale della Torre

The 2017 Olive Harvest

23 Oct

Every year, around mid to late October, many Cortonese hope to begin harvesting their olives. I use the word hope because Mother Nature plays a huge role in the success of the harvest. While 2015 was a bountiful year, the complete opposite was true for 2016 due to the dreaded mosca (fly).  And this year, the 2017 harvest was severely limited by the drought…hence,  small quantity but good quality olives depending on the location of one’s olive grove.

Nonetheless, October begins the eagerly anticipated time “olio nuovo” (new oil) signs begin to appear in restaurants and stores. And it is also a time when locals invite friends to celebrate their production. Lucky for us, friends invited us to dinner last night, but didn’t tell us they had already been to the frantoio (mill) to begin processing their olives.

As soon as we entered the cantina, we knew we were in for a treat. The bright green color and the light peppery taste of freshly pressed olive oil is unlike that of any other oil.




Lapo and Paola like to call this a peasant dinner – simple and fresh food picked from the garden or locally sourced, all designed to highlight the taste of the new oil.



New oil is traditionally first tasted as a bruschetta  – toasted bread rubbed with fresh garlic and topped with the oil. We each made our own. Delicious.



We also added the oil to a dash of salt in tiny bowls – a wonderful dip for fresh vegetables from the garden.



Next came what Len calls an Italian version of hummus, this one made from ceci (chickpeas), drizzled with the oil and topped with a sprig of rosemary. Can’t wait to try this myself.



The dish that followed was a type of bread soup, pappa al pomodoro, topped with a drizzle of oil. Simple, delicious and perfect for an autumn evening. 



Now this is Italy, remember, so you know there is more to follow, and what followed was rosemary roasted chicken and potatoes, with a splash of oil of course!



Now not all olives are turned into oil, as was the case with these tasty herb and orange marinated olives, served as a side dish.



For dessert, we were treated to Paola’s delicious torta della nonna, (grandmother’s cake), a traditional Tuscan dessert with a light custard. (I forgot to ask if she added a drop of the new oil to it!) Not being much of a baker, I bought the others at a local pasticceria. 



So that’s how we celebrate the olive harvest in Cortona, enjoying what Mother Nature provides, combined with the hard work of locals who pick by hand. 

From this…



to this. Doesn’t get much better.



Our thanks to Lapo and Paola for an always entertaining and delicious evening together. Complimenti to the cook and grazie for your friendship!




Cortona Olive Picking: Helping Friends

10 Nov

Today, while taking our usual walk through the parterre and then around the bend, we heard voices coming from below the hill. We knew at once it was people picking olives at Casale della Torre, the Agriturismo operated by friends Lapo and Paola. We walked down the winding road and saw Ilaria in a tree… “Possiamo aiutare?”  (Can we help?) we called out. We knew the answer would be yes.



We spent the rest of the day with Ilaria and some of her relatives and family friends, talking, laughing, and enjoying the incredible autumn day as we picked various shades of olives. Except for Ilaria, none of them spoke English, but that didn’t matter as we shared a common language in the effort.

Two of the men were in the trees, expertly cutting and dropping large branches, from which we would remove the olives. Apparently, those involved deemed Len and I expert enough from our previous work as no one gave us additional pointers. (I did notice, however, that Ilaria occasionally checked to be certain we left no olives on the branches!)



One of the things I love about working with Italians is their love of the land. The olives vary among the trees, large riper ones easy to remove and others, still small and green, a bit harder. At each tree where the olives were large and very ripe, they would be delighted and describe them as incredible, beautiful, etc,  still having appreciation for nature after picking olives for more than 40 years.



We worked several trees at once, and after a tree was picked, the olives would be gathered and the nets would be moved to the next tree. “Corragio, avanti” they would say after the tiring day got long…have courage and move on (to the next tree!)





After a bit, it was time for a “simple” pranzo, so we gathered in the cantina to enjoy pici with pork and bread with the new oil they had already harvested. As always, a lovely, fresh, and delicious meal, shared among friends.







Afterward, it was back to work.



Sunshine, new and old friends, working the land. An American friend recently commented that we work hard and pursue our careers in order to have the opportunity to return to our roots and understand the land of our ancestors. Well said, Jean. So true and so rewarding, and exactly why we keep coming back.


Cortona in Winter

12 Feb

I always wondered what Cortona would be like in winter, and now I know. The same wonderful people, the same beautiful town, albeit a little quieter, and the same feeling like I’m home…ok, also colder and sometimes rainy, but certainly warm compared to Chicago.

Benita and I took the train from Roma last Saturday and spent two wonderful days and nights in Cortona. It’s an incredible feeling to walk through the market or down a street and recognize so many faces. We shopped, walked, ate, drank, talked and laughed with our wonderful Cortonese friends.

I think the pictures and smiles tell the story!











Grazie ai nostri amici per un tempo meraviglioso!

And Len, this one is for you…un baccino from Daniela!


Can’t wait to return this summer!



Casale della Torre

28 Jun

This is the story of how a casual hello turned into a magical evening and more. Are people we don’t know truly strangers, or just not yet friends? Such was the case with a couple we met at a local cafe.


Almost every day, Len and I stop at Torreone, about two miles into our morning walk. That morning, we said buongiorno to a couple enjoying the view as they sipped their cappuccino. We talked a bit and discovered we were all Cortona repeaters, they more than we. Over the next few days, and in several locations in and outside of Cortona, we bumped into each other and met new members of their expanding group. Each time, we’d visit a little longer and wonder where our next encounter might be.

Larry and Carrol were staying at Casale della Torre, an agriturismo in Cortona.



Being “city” people, Len and I had never stayed in one or even visited one, although we knew many people loved them, as did our new friends. They had become close to the agriturismo’s owners, who one night per week, prepare a family feast for them. And one morning, Carrol and Larry graciously invited us to join them.

Len and I cherish opportunities to experience life with locals, and we knew this invitation would be just that. But we couldn’t have imagined just how magical the evening would be as Larry and Carrol started the dinner with a toast to all.


Casale della Torre is proudly owned and operated by Lapo and Paola Salvadori on land that has been in their family for generations (www.casaledellatorre.com).


Their daughters, Ilaria and Laura, were also on hand to help with dinner and join in the festivities. As Lapo poured his own bottled wine,


Paola was busy in the kitchen. First up, fresh porcini mushrooms.



She explained that there are two recipes, but she only uses the one passed on by her mother. Lucky for us!


These were served with various bruschette, all toppings freshly made in the kitchen.



During the day, Lapo had taught the house guests how to make cheese, including ricotta which is used to fill their  ravioli as well as for dessert.


Their cellar is filled with what they grow and make, and the products are used in the special meals they prepare.IMG_0006

Next up, homemade ravioli for primo. And yes, the tomatoes are as rich as they look.


Add the homemade ravioli and a touch of freshly grated cheese, and smiles abound!


IMG_0024The weather dictated that the dinner be moved inside to their cantina, the lower level of one of the houses, and a perfect setting for a family gathering.


The secondi, or second course, included stuffed tomatoes,


rabbit (I ate it and it was delicious!)


and lamb, sorry no picture.

In between courses, Lapo entertained with a variety of music and dancing,



and at one point, called us all outside to see a 180° rainbow! The rainbow and picture are real. So very Lapo!


Not wanting dinner to get cold, Paola loudly called out in English “Hey, movie star!” and Lapo answers quickly.


We learned that Lapo is a man of many talents, and “movie star” refers to his several appearances in Under the Tuscan Sun. Next time you see the movie, look for him as he appears in several scenes throughout. Here’s a photo of him with the lady who wades in the fountain,


and here he is with Diane Lane and the producer.IMG_0047

But back to dinner. Once the food was served, Paola and her daughters joined the table and toasts were made. We talked and laughed so hard, tears were flowing. And of course, true to a great skill in our Italian culture, everyone was talking yet listening at once. Dinner was delicious…a tribute to Paola and her skill in the cucina!

Dessert consisted of the fresh ricotta made that day with two homemade marmellatas, fig and berry, and biscotti.



Then some “surprising” entertainment. Some of the men donned “Renaissance” costumes and presented limoncello along with Lapo’s Vino Santo, a dessert wine served after dinner. Suffice it to say, you had to be there. I’m so happy we were!

It is easy to see that Paola and Lapo are hard-working entrepreneurs who understand how to make a living as well as a life off the fertile Italian soil.  They have raised two intelligent, well-educated daughters, operate a successful agriturismo, run a sheep farm, make wine and olive oil, grow and can fruits and vegetables, pass on their skills by teaching others, and most of all, share themselves and the love of  their culture with those fortunate enough to meet them. Carrol and Larry happened upon them by chance some years ago, and their families have forever bonded. And because of their relationship, Len and I had the opportunity to become part of their extended family this very special evening.

To Carrol and Larry, Paola and Lapo, our heartfelt thanks for an evening we will always treasure!


To our new friends –  such great memories!



All night long, conversations flowed easily in Italian and English around a dinner table with a 50 year age span. This is truly life at its best. And for us, participating in local Italian culture is another check on our bucket list.


If we have learned one thing as travelers, it is to never underestimate the power of a simple hello. Magical!



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